HAWLEY - Passenger excursion trains are expected to be passing back and forth between Honesdale and Hawley in the coming months, with trains embarking from either point, as well resumed trips to Lackawaxen.
HAWLEY -Passenger excursion trains are expected to be passing back and forth between Honesdale and Hawley in the coming months, with trains embarking from either point, as well resumed trips to Lackawaxen.
More than a train of passenger coaches, in the future there may be dining cars catered by local restaurants, trains of cabooses, and other speciality cars, even an ice cream train popular with kids. As many as three locomotives would be available for use.
The inaugural run of the restored line is planned for May 9, 2015.
Freight has not at all been forgotten. While restoring the passenger excursion trains is the top priority, discussion has begun with several local companies about using the railroad for freight shipping or deliveries.
A revived, ambitious program for the Stourbridge Line was laid out Tuesday evening, January 13, at the meeting of the Downtown Hawley Partnership (DHP) at the Hawley Library. Representatives of their counterpart organization, Greater Honesdale Partnership (GHP), The Chamber of the Northern Poconos, Pocono Mountain Visitors Bureau (PMVB) and other interested parties assembled to hear from principals behind this effort to restore railroading to the historic rail spur.
••• Enter the Myles Group
The Myles Group of Exton, PA has purchased the operating rights of the Delaware, Lackawaxen & Stourbridge (DL&S) Railroad.
To back up:
Paul Brancato, a principal of Ideal Steel Corporation on Long Island, purchased the 25-mile railroad spur in May 2008 with the hope to start a warehouse/ light manufacturing plant at White Mills, utilizing the railroad and seeking other freight business. There was expectation at the time that gas drillers would be operating in the region, which would benefit by having a rail line.
Brancato hired Morristown & Erie Railroad to operate the line.
The national recession had hit and local drilling expectations had diminished.
The 25-mile railroad spur has sat dormant since December 2011. The Stourbridge Line's last excursion was on December 11th of that year. Morristown & Erie continued to maintain the tracks.
Lackawaxen Honesdale Shippers Association, which is run by Tom Shepstone, stepped in to attempt to save the rail line from extinction. The Shippers contracted K.C. Smith, owner of RFT Railroad Consulting, based in West Milford, NJ, about two years ago. Smith has a heavy background in passenger rail operations and worked as freight train master for Susquehanna Railroad.
On September 30, 2014 the Shippers Association successfully negotiated with Brancato for the Shippers take over the operating rights of the line. This transfer was approved by federal rail authorities on November 26.
Paul Brancato continues as the owner of the physical infrastructure of the line, including the tracks, rail bed and crossings.
At first the aim of the Shippers Association was to operate the line, and Smith would be the General Manager.
Smith said that he then advised bringing in A.T. “Tom” Myles, who owns the Myles Group, based in Exton, PA. This family-run organization successfully ran the Wellsboro-Corning Railroad for passenger excursions and freight, as well as other railroad ventures.
Smith stated he and Shepstone came to an agreement with Myles, letting Myles Group purchase the operating rights. Smith will continue in the same position as General Manager. The have been friends for several years, and met on board a train to Chicago.
Myles told the group that he and Smith have a similar vision for excursion railroads. He pledged that he is committed to seeing this venture a success, and will invest what he needs to make it happen.
He has already brought in several cabooses to Honesdale, so that the public can sense this is a serious project. Additional passenger cars, he said, were on their way from Corning, NY.
A crew was in the area that week to begin repairs on the BL2 locomotive which pulled the Stourbridge Line coaches for over 30 years of operations. A couple other locomotives owned by the Myles Group will also be utilized, he said.
At some point, Myles said he would like to bring a steam locomotive here.
The equipment will be based at the train yard at East Honesdale.
“I think it's an exciting time for you only because I know what I can do and what I have done...,” Myles said.
He said they were able to expand the Wellsboro-Corning Railroad from moving 300 cars a year to over 8,500 a year. The railroad went from employing “one and a half people” to 150. Myles said he did not anticipate investing as much money in the Stourbrige rail line because he did not at this point see the business here. He added, however, that they will invest what they they need as the line develops.
••• Freight discussed
Myles said that his main goal is the passenger business, although he will be happy to have freight. He said there is a party at White Mills considering making use of the line. About six local companies have been contacted. There is possible interest in using the rail line to ship quarry stone. Most are talking about using it for inbound freight. He has spoken with an asphalt manufacturer about bringing in material by rail.
He stated he has extensive customer relations nationwide. His organization offers companies trans-load service so that they do not have to be located next to the tracks.
For the first 32 years, the Stourbridge Line excursions were managed by the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce, selling tickets and marketing the rides. Prior to when the recession hit in 2007, the tourist attraction drew between 10,000 and 15,000 passengers a year.
Keeping the excursions going without the revenue from freight had continuously been a struggle for the Chamber. The last major freight user was
Moore Business Forms in Honesdale, which closed in 1999. The Chamber obtained grants to help keep the line running.
Myles stated that the Chamber would no longer need to shoulder the responsibility to sell rail tickets. The Chamber and other organizations, however, would be needed to help market the rails as an attraction for visitors to the area.
••• Every weekend
He expects to begin the excursions with rides every Saturday and Sunday. The full route to Lackawaxen may be taken on Sundays. During the fall foliage season, excursions may be scheduled daily.
Ultimately, Myles said, they would want trains running both ways so people can get off wherever they want.
He has at least 15 special trains at Wellsboro for different events. By this summer they will evaluate whether they can start using dining cars. There was a suggestion that various local restaurants could take turns sponsoring a dining car run.
There is a lot of entertainment involved. Myles said he has a very nice private rail car built in 1923, that was used by three presidents, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Rooselvelt. He has entertained senators, congressmen and governors aboard this car. He hopes to utilize this car on the local rail line.
“It's a real boon to the local society by doing that, by bringing the local people aboard,” he said. “...I will entertain you to the nth degree if I can.”
Eventually, they hope to run two trains a day, even three. With three trains, a schedule could be coordinated so that a passenger could plan to stay overnight in Honesdale or in Hawley. Trains will leave from either Hawley or Honesdale.
They expect to travel as fast as 25 miles per hour.
Lackawaxen lacks the shopping district, but Smith said what the full route to Lackawaxen offers is the best views between Hawley and Lackawaxen.
Sue Currier, Delaware Highlands Conservancy, asked about a winter run to Lackawaxen for eagle viewing. Smith said it would depend on the passenger count. Ingrid Peterec, National Park Service, recommended planning a Lackawaxen trip for Zane Grey Day on July 18.
Smith said he would like to see a train station/visitors center established in Lackawaxen.
“We'll grow into a schedule that works for everybody,” Myles said.
Volunteers, he said, will be welcome, to help Smith with the operation.
Smith said the only way it will be a successful tourist operation is if they partner with local organizations and businesses.
••• Not all a once
Smith stated their greatest challenge is to restore the rail line, which has been shut down for three years. Contrary to rumor, however, he said the line was not in such poor shape that it could not be used. There are a few areas needing attention. They also have a tight deadline to begin operations by May.
Two and a half years, he said, may be a realistic timeframe to understand what will work and what won't work in terms of train activities for the local area. They have many ideas, but not all is expected to happen quickly.
May 9th was suggested by Jeff Hiller, president of the GHP, and a rail buff. May 9th is National Train Day, an annual publicity event originated by Amtrack which has since been adopted by other rail lines.
Myles said his greatest challenge is to make this a viable operation. He said he is willing to make the investment, but as an entrepreneur and businessman, getting a return is important too. He said he wants to see the rail line become viable for the community, to help business and get people to work.
••• Aid business, tourism
Keith Williams, manager of the PMVB Lake Wallenpaupack Visitor Center, commented, “I think this is great, I'm glad you are here.” He told Myles and Smith that they count about 31,000 visitors annually at the Visitor Center, and many ask what there is to do. Williams said it was a big loss without the train, but he realizes it comes down to numbers and marketing.
Bernadette Madigan, who operates a craft shop in Hawley, B. Madigan, expressed interest in working with the project to help bring in business. Myles and Smith both said they want to work with local business, but it is important that when the trains are running, the businesses need to be open.
Smith said that the merchant is responsible to get the passengers to stop in once the train arrives. Promotional material could be distributed to their hands aboard the train, suggesting what to do when the train stops.
••• Train station?
They were asked if there would be a physical location to stop and learn about the train and tickets. Myles responded that he has two small way stations from Philadelphia – actual vintage rail stations, and perhaps one could be set up.
Smith said that this year they will concentrate on obtaining tickets and checking the schedule online. A variety of tickets may be offered, including a coach ticket, a first class ticket offering more amenities, a caboose ticket and a limited number of tickets allowing one to ride with the engineer.
By the end of February they expect to announce a schedule and prices.
Asked about maintenance of the rail crossings, Smith said that the operating company would take care of maintenance.
The exempt status of the crossings remains in place, which presently relieves drivers of school buses, fuel trucks and others from stopping due to the lack of rail traffic. Smith said he wasn't really in favor of the status but realized there were reasons the status was requested. He said if the exempt status were ever lifted, proper notification would have to be given.
A. T. “Tom” Myles
A. T. “Tom” Myles is the president and CEO of Myles Group of Exton, PA, and is a fourth generation railroader. He operates the organization with his sons Tom and William. Myles, who is 70, is a fourth generation railroader.
Myles Group is an organization of manufacturing and service companies with the capability to create and implement solutions, their web site (www.mylesgroup.net) states.
Myles Group's long term objective of establishing a railroad operation became a reality with the acquisition of the Wellsboro & Corning Railroad and the Tioga Central Railroad in late 2007.
The Wellsboro & Corning Railroad is a 38-mile freight line, operating from Wellsboro, PA to Corning, NY with connections to Norfolk Southern and the Canadian Pacific.
The Tioga Central Railroad is a passenger train operation with both excursion and charter trains.
TransRail North America is a rail terminal service and operations company. Utilizing rail associated products, TransRail North America provides logistics solutions and terminal service operations including rail car transloading, cleaning, and repair programs.
All Myles Group companies are green companies dedicated to the reduction of pollution, fuel use and demand of foreign oil. They practice recycling, adopting clean technologies, and working with public agencies and other partners to promote environmental stewardship.
Myles Group principles include A. T. Myles, Chief Executive Officer, President, A. T. Myles IV, Chief Financial Officer and W. B. Myles, Chief Operating Officer.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Myles' family had invested $1.1 million in the Wellsboro & Corning Railroad and used it to haul frack sand for natural gas drilling. In the winter of 2012, the Myles Group sold a 70 percent interest in the Wellsboro & Corning Railroad for $18 million to RailAmerica Inc., of Jacksonville, Fla.
Myles worked for the Pennsylvania Central Railroad, Conrail and CSX.
A.K. Tom Myles and his wife Carmen have had a vacation home at Dingmans Ferry for 15 years. They raised four children.